The Amateurism Debate and Possible Remedies

As the O’Bannon case plays out in the courtroom, the debate on whether the NCAA should allow college athletes to receive financial compensation for their performance rages on in the media. Opinions are torn between supporting the personal rights of players and upholding the core purpose of college; receiving an education. Proponents of paying players often cite reasons such as the immense amount of money that college sports produces for schools, the inflated salaries provided to coaches, and the struggles that many student-athletes have making ends meet. The risk to paying players is that the NCAA will have to start treating them as employees, which would entitle players to the same rights and benefits as employees that work at a university and, potentially, ruin the “purity” of college sports.


Rumblings have become so great, even sports icons like coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke believe that the definition of amateurism needs to change. Who can blame people for wanting change? Many may not sympathize with Johnny Manziel’s plight to be paid because he is already wealthy and likely to become even wealthier in the future, but some players, like walk on University of Richmond basketball player Jonathan Benjamin, truly demonstrate the injustice of the NCAA’s current system. A marketing major, Benjamin’s love of clothes led him to pursue his own clothing line as part of a marketing project. He put pictures of himself wearing his clothing line “The Best Fit” on Facebook and Twitter in hopes that this would become a legitimate business. Consequently, the school informed him that he could no longer use his own picture to promote his business; otherwise, he would be ineligible. All that Benjamin did was what any respectable marketing major would do . . . . he marketed his product! Granted the university allowed him to continue marketing as long as “[his] name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation are not used to promote the business,” which sounds to me like he cannot personally market at all. It is difficult to understand how the NCAA regulations promoted Benjamin’s education by stifling his ability to market his personal business.


Despite the NCAA vowing to take the O’Bannon case all the way to the Supreme Court, it is entirely possible that they will have to ease player concerns no matter the outcome. The remedies being discussed high up in the NCAA are numerous and all have the potential to produce both negative and positive consequences. Some examples include more scholarships for room and board, mandatory remedial assistance in tutoring, and post-graduate scholarship programs. Others believe that the NCAA should provide insurance because players put their bodies on the line. Big money schools suggest providing students with a stipend on top of athletic scholarships. There are even a few who believe that players should be able to receive endorsements. Each one of these options runs the risk of upsetting the balance between remedying the current problems players face and placing the focus of college athletics on making money instead of education.